Thursday, 30 June 2016

Bromley Historic Collections

The demise of Bromley Museum in Autumn 2015 lead Bromley Council to conclude that it could offer collection displays within the Library and Archives building  Central Library.
With building work due to take place in late August and September the former Libray and Archives service is being rebranded as Bromley Historic Collections.
It remains to be seen how displays will meet the needs of researchers. There are already users of the artefacts which are produced alongside Archive users using the borough's document sources and the former role of Education Officer in the Museum service has fallen back to School boxes of artefacts for handling and teaching within curriculum topics.
The uncertainty of achieving this combined service has impacted the service offered by the Archive team as no events have been offered in 2016 in order to address a relocation of the entire Local Studies floor of the library.
On the positive side two digital image scanners and touch screens are now available for microfilm users and a digital book scanner is available for archived material. Three new computers are dedicated to family history use and the problematic general computer users are now accommodated elsewhere in the building. This has been a positive creation of a quiet study area;albeit this is often disturbed by noise levels from the General Enquiries from the floor beneath and the absence of any protection from such disturbance. The architecture of the 1960's has created a very poor environment fot quiet research and the addition of displays is likely to introduce some problems of disturbance around researchers.
At present there is a lack of power points to archive or museum collection users who wish to use persoanl computers which will hopefully be addressed by building works.
Meanwhile the exterior cladding of the entire museum and Theatre building has deteriorated in the last twelve months. The entrance to both buildings from Bromley High Street has had safety fencing to protect passers by from falling objects for nearly two years. In recent weeks large cracks have appeared on the uppermost floors along the High Street elevation and a cracked glazing unit in the Large Hall looks ominous. The whole buiding is starting to look neglected and underfunded by Bromley Council.
I have a personal interest in the Lubbock Collection and this will form part of the display on the second floor which has displaced material previously offered on the second floor Archives and Local studies area. I suspect that the display will be a small representation of the collection but will await the Autumn exhibition.
© Henry Mantell Downe Online Parish Clerk 2016

Monday, 4 April 2016

Bromley Kent sexton's records 1809-1837

It has been a large undertaking to transcribe and proof read this large volume of records for Bromley Kent burials in several hands as a continuous record of the location and depth of burials in the churchyard at Bromley.
The volume is useful in understanding the land surrounding the churchyard and is also descriptive of the catacomb beneath the Ancient Parish church with its window location in one entry. Because of the descriptive references to the various neighbouring buildings and farm owners it is possible to identify the inhabitants of old Bromley. In 1809 the Rawes Academy was a large boys school and the sextons records indicate that Messrs Rawes had a paling fence oppsite the churchyard and a small wicket gate to gain access to the churchyard presumably for students and staff to attend church services. The account also records Doctor Ilott's house on another side of the churchyard and refers to a barn. There are also references to the different types of trees in the churchyard and to neighbouring farm and granary.
I have prevously blogged about my discovery of the Bromley Archives copy of Thomas Wilson "Accurate Description of Bromley" published in 1797 see here. On my rough sketch of the churchyard I think I can see the Rawes wicket gate and also the "Carriage Gate" entrance to the church and yard described in various accounts.
The locations of graves are measured using boundary features or trees or from existing tombs many described as with "rales" or flat stones or ledgers (a form of stone depicting a book). One is struck by the three dimensional nature of positioning burials in an ancient church yard. This account covers the Bromley response to the theft of bodies at Beckenham see my blog on the Beckenham Resurrectionists. From the outset of the volume it also records which bell was tolled for either the churchyard burial or the passage from bromley for burial elsewhere using either the Great Bell or small bell. In one case the bell is tolled for one hour although it was usual for the bell to toll the age of a person. There is a consistent fee of 7 shillings for the Great Bell and four shillings and sixpence for the small bell.
There was no "paupers grave" treatment at Bromley for the dead from the Poorhouse or Bromley Parish workhouse. Burials from there and from coroner's inquests regularly have the small bell tolled to accompany the interment which is in the next available location adjacent to other tombs and headstones. The grave is occupied by a number of burials and the burials tend to be shallower than neighbouring graves but there is no practice of using land at the edge of  the churchyard as "common" burial space.
In the accounts there are references to a Parish House at Bromley Common and given the field name Workhouse Field at Oakley Road and references to coffins made at the Parish House. It does appear that a second parish Poor House was occupied by the paupers from the Common and settlement at Skim Corner. The funeral accounts of both Joseph and Edward Dunn contain reference to "parish coffins" provided and I have formed the impression that paupers at Bromley Common which had a good deal of timber production woodbrokerage and sawmills were to produce coffins for both houses.
The entries have provided a number of blog entries including the death of Sarah Young in 1821. In most cases of a body found or sudden death or suicide the sexton records the circumstances to indicate suicide. Exceptionally Sarah's death is not designated as suicide. There are a number of deaths of people found in fields or drowned in ponds. Two deaths in sand pits (together) are entered and one in the gravel pit  "next to the Poorhouse". Outbreaks of smallpox claim young and old alike and there are a number of drowned persons in the moat of the Bishop's Palace mostly accidental but occasional suicides.
Another group of deaths are identified as patients under the care of Mister Scott famous surgeon and the number of patients treated is known to have been high so the death rate following surgery also seems relatively large.
In the era of the Napoleonic wars with France I was surprised to see a number of French burials. Since Shooting Common had a military encampment and soldiers were billeted in the town it surprised me to find a settled french population in Bromley.
Also associated with the war are deaths from injuries and reference to the death of fathers in Spain and in various regiments in other campaigns. There are also a number of amputees mentioned.
The early years of the record also identify the name of Bromley undertakers. These correspond with the Dunn funeral accounts ledgers that is the Dunn funeral business assisted various carpenters and cabinet makers from whom they purchased coffins at busy periods. There are a number of funerals recorded as being handed over for completion. R M Smith has a number of businesses in Bromley but ran a carpentry workshop; several of his employees are recorded at the time of their funerals.Smith also farmed land and owned rental properties known in the records as "Smith's Rents". Other undertakers are recorded as London or Stranger or name and the local parish such as Beckenham. Few in the local funeral trade could match the Dunn funeral business which undertook large funerals for the local nobility. The detail of the sexton's record series provide an insight into the funeral trade of the Georgian and Regency period and establishes Dunns as the leading undertaker in Bromley over this period.
© Henry Mantell Downe Online Parish Clerk 2013-2016 

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Killed herself by passion:the death of Sarah Young of Bromley Kent

The sexton's account of the burial of Sarah Young at Bromley Kent on 12 July 1821  records that she was the 34 year old wife of of Henry Young a Wheeler at Widmore but intriguingly describes her cause of death as "killed herself by passion".
The description of the location of the burial plot leads me to speculate that Sarah's burial was not buried as a suicide and the entry is therefore all the more intriguing and unusual. The Sexton's account is usually meticulous in identifying the cause of unusual death using "death was occasioned by" to precede a coroner's inquest verdict. It is not unusual for the record to record "found" details for unexplained deaths or death by drowning or suicide by "reason of insanity" or a direct means. Was this phrase used as a euphemism?
Unfortunately there is no extant contemporary record from 1821 at Bromley Archives to shed further light.
Sarah's entry in the the parish register of burials makes no reference to her cause of death see Kent Online Parish Clerks transcript burials 1813-1836.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Robert Renton 1826 Bromley Kent

In July 1826 the burial of 6 year old Robert Renton in Bromley churchyard would appear uneventful. The parish burial register records his abode as Elmstead which lay outside the town but within the parish and no other detail Kent Online Parish Clerks transcript Burial register.
It is only when one reads the sexton account of the burial that the nature of Robert's death emerges as sexton Edward Dunn records that he was killed by his father and in a later addition that his father was acquitted of his son's manslaughter.
In the London Courier and Evening Gazette of 5 August 1826 the circumstances of the child's death and the acquittal of Robert Renton Senior are described. The Bromley Coroner had arraigned Robert Renton on Coroner's Inquisition charging him with feloniously killing and slaying young Robert.
The child's death resulted from a fractured skull caused by his father "correcting him" for disobedience with a leather strap which had a metal buckle. The child died as a result of a fractured skull.
As was usual before the abolition in the 1840's of the Grand Jury system ( to be superseded by committal proceedings in Magistrates Courts)  in the the case of Robert Renton the Grand Jury rejected a bill of indictment for homicide before the arraignment on Coroner's Inquisition was to be heard by Mister Justice Holroyd.
Both Counsel and Learned Judge identified two fatal flaws in the case against Renton;the record failed to identify the venue  or the means of death of the child and both were required for Renton to be arraigned.
Mister Adolphus for the prosecution and with the Judge's permission described the  more lurid and sensational rumours that had been circulated about the child's death and described the death as an accident. Mister Justice Holroyd also agreed that had a trial proceeded the result could only have been an acquittal as the depositions taken before the Coroner induced in him  a belief that the death was purely accidental.
Robert Renton " a person of respectable appearance" was acquitted and is described as bereft at the death of his son.
Edward Dunn was undertaker for the funeral of Robert the funeral account transcript is Dunn Funeral Account 1826 at Kent Online Parish Clerks and shows that Robert Renton had the child's coffin collected from Elmstead by hearse and a bearer to carry the coffin for interment.
To the 21st century mind such violence by a parent is horrifying but as the report of proceedings the all male process of acquittal saw the child as at fault and justified the parent using force to correct; the "accident" of a fractured skull is condoned by both counsel for the prosection and learned Judge as the father might lawfully discipline the child.
Little else is known of the Renton family who presumaly moved from the area despite exoneration at the Assizes.

Monday, 8 February 2016

The role of the Relieving Officer in the Bromley Kent Poor Law Union

In undertaking transcription of 4 volumes of the Bromley Union Registers of Lunatics and an additional Lunatic register which is distinctly administrative I came to appreciate the work of Relieving Officers. Kent Online Parish Clerks had obtained a written agreement from Bromley Archives to carry out this transcript series and to publish them online. The years 1899-1915 were included in this agreement; the fourth volume was made available to the public on 2 January 2016.
I was unable to locate any writing about the the role of Union Relieving Officers and realised that much of what they did had an important role in the twentieth century development of local services for both children and adults and what came to be called social work. The Lunacy registers describe a broad range of human need; both constables, Justices and Relieving Officers had powers to detain an alledged lunatic in the Workhouse under sections of the Lunacy Act for specified periods. The Union Workhouse Medical Officer was responsible for examining on admission and discharge and The Workhouse Master was responsible for ensuring the registers were completed and that orders were reexamined when each period of authority was at an end.
Asylum orders were also issued and the Relieving Officer would have to locate the individual and convey them to the Asylum and in the process would admit them to the Workhouse for examination by the Workhouse Medical Officer.
The Lunatic Registers for Bromley Union contain admissions for individuals from three years four months in age to elderly persons. Originally referred to as "George's House" by locals the workhouse was situated at Locksbottom in Kent and was nicknamed for George Warde Norman who chaired the Board of Guardians in it's early years.
The duty of the Relieving Officer was to receive applications from all persons who sought either medical or poor relief and could either provide emergency poor relief for the maintenance of persons in their own homes or arrange admission to the Workhouse. They had authority equivalent to a police constable  under the Lunacy Acts to authorise detention in the workhouse for children and adults for up to 3 days.
The transcribed Bromley Union registers enable each of the District Relieving Officers workload to be identified and to see their duties to convey people to and from the Workhouse.
The Workhouse had a stables (close to the Chapel) as well as an adjacent building for storing inmates own clothes.Examination of the Guardians minutes identifies that a horse drawn ambulance was available and the Relieving Officers make use of this vehicle. When a replacement vehicle is needed the Guardians authorise purchase from the London Asylums Board of a vehicle surplus to the Board's requirements and this perhaps reflects the needs of Relieving Officers in a large geographical Union and responsible for transfers to the Kent County Asylum at Barming Heath Maidstone.
The Relieving Officer was therefore called to intervene in crisis in families or individuals who could no longer cope with a wide range of human conditions. The Lunacy Acts of the period 1899-1915 were loose in what an "alledged lunatic" might be and the Bromley registers include

  • epileptics some assessed as sane others identified as needing care in the County Asylum
  • those with a wide spectrum of learning difficulties ( the Workhouse had two "imbecile" wards) one for each gender for adults who were permanently detained.
  • suicidal persons
  • those with no speech often characterised as deaf and dumb
  • pre and post natal depression affecting personality and behaviour
  • Police Order detention of those with alcoholism or alcohol related illness later discharged and supported by Relieving Officers
  • the use of belladonna plasters influencing behaviour see my blog the identification of belladonn plaster use in Lunatic Register admissions
It is interesting to observe that The Relieving Officer was on each occasion of transfer to the County Asylum responsible for taking the discharged workhouse inmate there. After some violently behaved inmates of the padded room on both male and female wards it became unwritten practice for the the Relieving Officer to be accompanied by an Attendant and on occasion the Relieving Officer would have as many as three Attendants with him. There is no reference in the Guardians meeting minutes around the time of introduction of this practice and it is not possible to tell whether this was a local decision by the Workhouse Master and four district Relieving Officers or a suggestion arising from inspection which preceded two violent inmates.
It is interesting to note that at no point were physical restraints used on such occasions on a lengthy journey to Maidstone, The Register of mechanical restraints for the Union is still closed to the public but I was able to examine the record of inspection by the Lunacy Commissioners and their recommendation to purchase an asylum restraint jacket otherwise referred to popularly as a straitjacket. The first recorded use of this is not until the 1920's although purchased several years before.
Relieving Officers throughout this period and for some years preceding them give long service. Their districts are over a wide area and the regularity of trips to Maidstone are striking. They work as a team often deputising in each other's absence. Elsewhere in the Bromley Workhouse record series the scale of their work with "outdoor relief" is recorded and they identify lack of suitable provision for children and adults with varying needs for support not available locally such as the need for boarding out children or provision of accommodation specialising in the needs of epileptics.
It is apparent that the Relieving Officers played a historically significant role in the development of what came to be termed social work. In the twentieth century mental health legislation it is the social worker who accompanies the person compulsory detained or "sectioned" to the psychiatric hospital. I wonder whether social workers appreciate that the expectation to do so arose from the Relieving Officer practice.
I will blog further about the Relieving Officers in each district in future.

© Henry Mantell Downe Online Parish Clerk 2013-2016

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Ex visitatione dei- Visitation by God Bromley Kent 1835

As I proceed to transcribe the sextons accounts of Bromley Saint Peter and Saint Paul I am reminded of questions asked by students and family historians over my years as a genealogist on this cause of death.
The early years of civil registration of death contain references to cause of death on death certificates and coroner's verdicts of Ex visitatione dei or Visitation by God as a recorded cause of death based upon medical opinion for the death.
On 6 March 1835 the burial of Edmund Neighbour of Bromley Common takes place in the Bromley parish churchyard. The Bromley Sexton in describing the burial in the south east part of the graveyard in a 7 foot deep grave also describes the circumstances of the discovery of his body dead in bed and the coroner's jury finding of death by visitation of God.
The duties of a Coroner include examining the circumstances of sudden or unexplained death as we see in this example. The Coroner first determines whether there are any suspicious circumstances and seeks evidence from medical opinion. The Coroner is concerned primarily in the detection of any crime or explanation of circumstances leading to death and likely to accept medical opinion as to other causes.
Of course any doctor called to a dead body is faced with a challenge; in a period when so little knowledge existed of many fatal conditions unless there was visible injury to the person or presence of fever,evidence of alcoholism or drinking alcohol prior to death or a history of epilepsy or "apoplexy" then the death could not be easily diagnosed. Indeed such natural causes would account for many deaths and the detail of this volume of sexton's accounts describe sudden death in shops,the Market Square and elsewhere in Bromley Kent over the years from 1809-1838. It was only in cases of poisoning or injury to the body that an autopsy would be called for. The medical practioner would rely on accounts of people who knew the deceased.
 Medical practice and the law had therefore devised the term Visitation of God to explain the death by natural causes. In more religious times it was supposed that God had determined it was time for the person to die and this cause of can be found in a variety of record sources from the 1600's onwards.
In 1836/7 the Registration of Births and Deaths Act  came into force but giving the cause of death on a death certificate remained optional, however in 1837 The Royal College of Physicians, The Royal College of Surgeons and the Society of Apothecaries circulated their joint view that accurate  registration of cause of death needed to be provided. The term "natural causes" came into medical practice on recording cause of death. It was open to the Registrar General to communicate with any medical practitioner if the cause of death on certification was considered unnaceptable in order to obtain a more accurate medical description. It was not until the Births and Deaths Act 1874 that it became compulsory to give the cause of death with penalty for failure to do so.
It is therefore possible to find death certificates between 1837 and 1874 with Visitation by God as cause of death. These frequently lead family historians to ask what did this cause of death mean?
Once again the detailed sextons account compiled by Edward Dunn the parish sexton has answers for 21st century searchers.
© Henry Mantell Downe Online Parish Clerk 2013-2016

Monday, 25 January 2016

Vertical burial in the churchyard at Downe Kent

The January 2016 meeting of Downe Local History group was held in the parish church of Saint Mary where Howard Cheswick a long time churchwarden gave a history of the church and it's main features.
Howard  referred to discovery that the oldest wall of the 1291 chapel with original lancet window was built without foundation. The church in its form with a steeple was built by 1552 because an inventory of 1552 refers to three bells (which still are rung). Two of these bells are made by William Daw of London (1385-1418) and the third has a date of 1511 but an unknown maker. The vestry and boiler room beneath were Victorian extensions to the church.
Howard then described some of the prominent early families of Downe including Manning and Verzelini.
The incumbency of Charles Ffinden in the 19th century coincided with many internal and external alterations including the raising of the nave floor and installation of the present pews. Previously the pews were box pews and there is one burial in the burial register which refers to burial "in his own pew". The "restoration" of the church during Ffinden's time left a the church with a legacy of repair for present church members to deal with.
In 1990 these became apparent and resulted in major structural defects in the floor and drainage being addressed. The boiler room had to be extended and the crypt burials had to be removed and reinstated with rededication of the burials. During building excavation to the north side of the church to provide a larger boiler room  beneath the vestry and human remains were discovered in a vertical burial.
The mystery was who had been buried in such a manner?
In my experience the north side of churches often contain those referred to as suicides or lunacy causing suicide. Because of the extension of the church to build the vestry it is likely that the excavation had entered the area of earlier century churchyard burials beyond the foundations of the vestry walls.
So what do the Downe Burial Transcripts which I undertook some years ago reveal?
It appears from Howard's description that the burial took place earlier than the 19th century and I take that to be in the two volumes of register Composite register 1539-1733 and burials 1697-1812 which are transcribed Kent Online Parish Clerks Downe Burials on a single page. There is a nineteenth century suicide in a later burial register but no indication of type of burial and I think this unlikely to fit the description of the vertical burial.
There are two burials which could solve the mystery:
On 28 September 1713 John Michell buried on the North side of the Church after he had drowned himself in the River Ravensbourne.
0n 13 July 1758 the spinster Elizabeth BROWN was "buried on the north side of the church but denied Christian burial because she hanged herself."
Vertical burial is not unknown on the North side of churchyards but the sheer physical effort of digging a vertical burial (far greater than a conventional plot) unless chosen and paid for by the deceased point to strong motivation to dig a deeper 3 foot square (traditionally) burial. It is of course possible to dig a deep conventional grave space and surround the corpse with material which can be easily ecavated to add additional vertical burials if necessary and a pragmatic sexton and gravedigger may have adopted this approach at Downe. In 1758 the burial entry points to a strong motivation and although not referred to in 1713 the same reasoning would have applied namely that a suicide was denied right of burial within the Anglican church.
Both these burials fall within the period of the Burials in Woolen Acts. I have blogged previously about these acts in relation to the Bromley Saints Peter and Saint Paul registers from introduction of the Act here. I have also blogged about coroners verdicts in case of suicide Felo de Se verdicts in the district near Downe.
We will never know whose burial was disturbed at Downe by the building excavation but as in all cases reinterment of remains is conducted with a service by clergy. Over 200 years after ending life one of these two suicides was treated with respect and dignity at the time of reinterment.
© Henry Mantell Downe Online Parish Clerk 2013-2016